Monday, June 30, 2014

What authority determines your course?

telescope observing night sky
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Timothy 4:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables." 2 Timothy 4:3,4

Such a time has come for the church, especially over the issue of blessing same sex marriages. Numerous books have lately come out by professing Christians that are pro same-sex unions (see this Publisher's Weekly article).

Writers of these books usually argue that Bible passages that speak clearly against homosexuality* have been misinterpreted and are saying something different than what they seem to say.

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has put together a book (God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines**)) refuting one of these books (God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines). In Mohler's book, Mohler and four other theologians speak to the arguments Vines makes.

In the chapter titled "What Has the Church Believed and Taught?" Denny Burk quotes liberal theologian Luke Timothy Johnson who, to his credit, is one who admits that the Bible doesn't come out favoring same-sex relationships. In fact, he names the authority that proponents of gay marriage are really following. He says:

"I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? … I think it is important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us" (quoted in God and the Gay Christian - A Response to Matthew Vines? p. 54)

More and more churches and individual Christians that hold to the traditional interpretation of the Bible on contentious issues like gay marriage are being pushed into a corner by the powers of political correctness and public opinion. In this context it's really important that we settle for ourselves (corporately and personally) who and what our authority is in these matters.

Do we set our course by the Bible's authority or are we too heaping up for ourselves fables (new authorities like experience)? We need to determine to set our course by the true North Star of God's word, not the flashy satellites of experience and public opinion that orbit the sky of our culture.

PRAYER: Dear God, in these times when the authority of Your word is being questioned, help me to stay true to it and You. Help me to live my life by Your standards, not the standards of the society around me. Amen.

* Bible passages that speak about homosexuality are: Genesis 19:5; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; and 1 Timothy 1:10. 

** Download the free pdf of God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines HERE.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Going fishing

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 21:1-19

TO CHEW ON: "Simon Peter said to them, 'I am going fishing.'" John 21:3

It had been a traumatic week or so for Peter. Jesus—on whom he had pinned his hopes for what...ousting the Romans and proving Himself the nation's messiah; at the very least carrying on using His miracles to outsmart and out-power His enemies—had been killed. But worse, just before that, he, Peter, had denied, after three years together, that he was in any way associated with his friend.

Now Jesus had reappeared, back from the dead, resurrected. It was wonderful but confusing. All the more so because Peter probably no longer saw himself as worthy of playing any role in what Jesus had in mind.

I can just see the disciples sitting around, discussing—What's next? What's the future for us, for me, now? And it would be at this point Peter would get up and say, "I'm going fishing." I see it as his way of saying, 'I'm going back—back to the old life of what I know, what I enjoyed, what I do well so I can again feel normal, useful, and not a failure.'

Trouble is on this night "they caught nothing." He couldn't even do fishing well!

It was at this critical point, early in the morning after the frustrating night of failure, that Jesus appeared again. He told them to cast their nets on the wrong right side of the boat. They did, and hauled in an unheard-of catch of large fish. And then Jesus invited them to breakfast on the beach after which He and Peter had it out.

Jesus pressed Peter by asking him three times: "Do you love Me?" The first time he phrased it, "Do you love Me more than these?" I imagine Him motioning toward the boats and nets as He said these. I believe He was asking Peter to be done forever with fishing.

I think of this story often when I'm tempted to get off task. I have, since I've taken up writing, had several what I consider God-given assignments that brought with them their share of discouragement. When those projects have felt overwhelming, or haven't gone well, or have appeared unlikely to sell even if I finished them, the temptation has been to "go fishing." For me, going fishing means abandoning the big job He has given me for something safer, more predictable, the kind of project I've had success with in the past. It means going back instead of going forward.

What's your way of going fishing?

Jesus presses home the issue with us like He did with Peter: 'Do you love me more than these? Then show it by doing the job I've given you to do.'

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be clear on Your assignments and resist the temptation to go back to the safe, faith-impoverished pre-assignment life. Amen.

MORE: Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

Today is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. The day's liturgy begins with this collect:
"Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Echoes of hospitality

Shunammite woman and Elisha
Shunammite woman makes a room for Elisha
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Kings 4:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "And she said to her husband, 'Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lamp stand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there."  2 Kings 4:9,10

 This Shunammite woman, who is never named, was generous and hospitable, particularly toward the things of God. She noticed this "holy man of God" (Elisha) and wanted to make a connection. Invitations to meals when he passed through Shunem led to B&B accommodation. What rewards she got for this!

  • After Elisha asked how he could repay her (with no request on her part, but Elisha's servant Gehazi observing that she was childless), she and her husband had a son.
  • Beyond the bounds of today's reading, her young son died. Then she went in desperation to the prophet and Elisha brought the boy back to life (2 Kings 4:18-37).
  • Later Elisha warned her and her husband of a coming famine so they could move to a place where there was food (2 Kings 8:1,2).
  • After seven years she and her family returned to Israel where, it appears someone had confiscated the family's property. She went to the king to ask that it be returned to them—and at exactly the time that Gehazi was telling him about Elisha raising her son from the dead. After that 'coincidence' how could the king not grant her request (2 Kings 8:3-6)?

Like the Shunammite woman, we have no idea the things we set in motion when we are generous and hospitable, in terms of rich relationships, future help, even God-engineered coincidences.

I like how David expresses this idea:

"Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in His sight.
With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful;
With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless;
With the pure You will show Yourself pure;

And with the devious, You will show Yourself shrewd" - Psalm 18:25,26 (emphasis added).

Dear God, please help me to nurture qualities of generosity and hospitality, not with a view to getting something in return but simply because these are things You value,. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Not your usual naming ceremony

Birth of John the Baptist - Alexandre Bida
Birth of John the Baptist - Alexandre Bida

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 1:57-80

TO CHEW ON: "And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote saying, 'His name is John.' So they all marvelled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke praising God." Luke 1:63,64

A person's name in Bible times held more significance for them than our names do for us. A Holman Bible Dictionary article explains:
"The biblical concept of naming was rooted in the ancient world's understanding that a name expressed essence. To know the name of a person was to know that person's total character and nature. Revealing character and destiny, personal namrs might express hopes for the child's future…" Kandy Queen-Sutherland, "Naming," Holman Bible Dictionary - read entire article.

Mother Elizabeth was the first to demur when the person responsible for the mechanics of registering the baby's name assumed everything would go as normal. This illustrates two more customs around naming in the Bible:
1] the task of naming generally fell to the mother.
2] it was a practice to give the baby the name of a relative, often the grandfather or father.

When father Zacharias supported Elizabeth's surprising name choice of John, the bystanders "all marveled." But an even greater surprise was just moments away. For no sooner had Zacharias written "His name is John," than "Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed."

It was as if God had held Zacharias' power of speech hostage until he demonstrated he truly believed what the angel had said (Luke 1:13) by getting out of the rut of what everyone expected.

Does God still work that way today, testing our willingness to believe and obey by asking us to leave the rut of the ordinary, the safe, and the comfortable? To go on that mission trip? To accept that assignment that feels beyond our ability? To work towards fulfilling that dream that seems way too big to come true?

I love how Zacharias' compliance led to his speech not only returning but returning in a river of praise, adoration, and prophecy. Who knows what will be unleashed when we step out in unquestioning obedience?

PRAYER: Dear God, please strengthen my trust in You so I am unafraid to step out of familiar ruts when You tell me to. Amen.

MORE: Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Today the church celebrates John the Baptist's birth. The liturgy for this day begins with this collect:

"Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Just for interest's sake, I looked up the meaning of the two names at play here:

Zacharias means the Lord recalled, or the Lord remembered.

John means Yahweh is gracious.

What does your name mean? 


The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. - Used with permission.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Lessons from nature

"' Look at the birds ... your heavenly Father feeds them.'" Matthew 6:26

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 8:1-9

TO CHEW ON: "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?" Psalm 8:3,4

Here David looks at the vast heavens at night, feels incredibly small, and uses that thought as a jump-off for pondering the place of man in God's creation.

Jesus often uses illustrations from nature in the lessons He teaches.

In the Sermon on the Mount, He draws attention to the birds. Though they live without forethought, they don't lack. He points to the lilies who,  He says, without any effort on their part, are more beautiful than a king in his glory. Surely God who feeds these creatures and clothes these flowers has the ability to care for His listeners then (and us today) without our fretting about it (Matthew 6:26,28).

Another time Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. Though its beginning is tiny, it grows to tree-like size (Matthew 13:31,32).

When talking about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus compares it to a field of grain. Man scatters the seed on the field but after that "the earth yields the crop by itself" without man's help. Just so the kingdom inexplicably grows, and matures on its own (Mark 4:28).

Walking along the road on day, Jesus points to a ripening fig tree. Just as the changes in the tree alert the passersby to the fact that the summer is coming, He says,  so watching current events should tell those who are alert that the coming of the Son of Man is near (Mark 13:28 and Luke 21:30).

Do you ever see spiritual lessons in nature? Let's look at the natural world with eyes open and alert to see what it might be saying to us about God and His ways.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known - Psalm 19:1-2 NLT.

PRAYER: Dear God I am in awe of the way nature reflects Your ways of working in the realm of the spirit. Please open my eyes to see You everywhere. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Spirit of order

"Creation of Light"
- Woodcut by Gustave Doré

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Genesis 1:1-2:4a

TO CHEW ON: "The earth was without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." Genesis 1:2

What is an earth "without form and void"? The Hebrew uses two rhyming synonyms "tohu" and "bohu" for "without form and void." A sidebar article in my Bible defines them:

["Tohu" - a formless chaotic mess, a waste, a worthless thing, emptiness and desolation, for no purpose, for nothing. Tohu and its rhyming synonym bohu are coupled to describe a scene of disorder, confusion, and lack of arrangement. Elsewhere tohu refers to a howling waste, a trackless wilderness, a scene of utter disarray, desolation, and barreness. Tohu suggests 'sheer emptiness' as opposed to order and balance" - New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 927.]

And who was there "hovering" over that chaos? The "Spirit of God" that same Spirit who came to inhabit individual Christians on the day of Pentecost and who comes to lives in us when we are reborn.

My Bible's notes on Genesis comment on the word "hovering": "Hovering connotes sweeping or moving rather than staying stationary. The Holy Spirit is the 'executive arm' of the Trinity so He was quite active as God spoke each word" - R. Russell Bixler,  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 4.

A grand account of creation follows. It's a marvel of writing, really, if you think of how much the verses of today's reading describe.

It's also a majestic display of the Trinity working in harmony.

God: "In the beginning God created..." Genesis 1:1.

Jesus: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" John 1:1-3,14.

Holy Spirit: "And the Spirit was hovering ..." Genesis 1:2 — sweeping, moving, and executing the Word.

If we bring together these thoughts about the Spirit, we have a wonderful promise to take into the day:
  • God the Holy Spirit can bring order to chaos.
  • This Spirit lives in us (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  • We can trust Him with the chaotic messes, the mysteries and confusions of our lives. He can order them into something meaningful, beautiful, and fruitful;  make out of them something that could be described as "good."

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this account of You working in creation, Please bring order to the confusing, disordered, chaotic parts of my life. Help me to cooperate with You in this. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Elymas spirit

Elymas the Sorcerer Struck With Blindness - Raphael
Elymas the Sorcerer Struck With Blindness - Raphael
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 13:1-12

"But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith." Acts 13:8

Elymas the sorcerer "withstood" Paul. Withstood - anthestemi means to oppose vigorously, bravely resist, stand face-to-face resisting. This word is where we get our word antihistamine—something that stands against and opposes the histamine in our bodies that cause allergic reactions. It is used in Ephesians 6:13 to describe how the Christian puts on the armour of God to be able "to withstand in the evil day and having done all to stand."

Here Elymas is offering such opposition to Paul—probably arguing against, making objections to, belittling, making fun of, mocking what Paul and Barnabas are attempting to explain of the gospel to Sergius Paulus.

Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, sees into this ploy of Satan himself. In a moment of intense spiritual confrontation Paul exposes what's going on when he says to Elymas, " 'O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?' " And then he pronounces temporary physical blindness on the man.

This story reminds me of people in public life, but also some I know personally, who withstand the gospel in this way. A couple of things.

  • The intellectual questions that they bring up are not usually the real barriers to faith. Satisfy one and they'll pose another. That's because the root issue is moral and one of the will, one of not wanting to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.
  • Openly naming the demonic root behind such withstanding—like Paul does with Elymas—I'm not sure that's always a good idea especially if the arguer is someone close to us. But we can certainly pray about this kind of spiritual resistance with insight and wait on the Holy Spirit to nudge us about when to say more and what and how to say it.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to recognize the Elymas spirit, not only in others but in myself. Help me to resist and expose it with the help of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Monday, June 09, 2014

Clothed in light

Clothed in light - artist unknown
Clothed in light - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 104:1-18

TO CHEW ON: "Bless the Lord, O my Soul!
O Lord my God, You are very great:
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment." Psalm 104:1,2

Images of light—and dark—are woven through the Bible. Today let's sample a few of them to understand what the Bible says about light and dark, and to get a sense of where we fit in the spectrum.

  • "God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all" - 1 John 1:5.
  • God's breath gives man intellectual understanding or light - Job 32:8.
  • The prophets depict the coming Messiah in terms of light: "But to you who fear My name / The Sun of Righteousness shall arise…" - Malachi 4:2.
  • John talks of Jesus using the metaphor of light: "In Him was life and the life was the light of men … That was the true light which gives light to every man" - John 1:4,9. 
  • Jesus claimed to be light: " ' I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life' " John 8:12.
  • He said belief in Him brought people into light:" ' I have come as a light into the world that whosoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness' " John 12:46. 

We gain an understanding and appreciation of light when we contrast it with darkness.

  • Moses describes the consequences of disobeying God: "You shall grope at noonday as a blind man gropes in darkness; you shall not prosper in your ways" - Deuteronomy 28:29.
  • Proverbs talks of the wicked person's way, "…like darkness. They do not know what makes them stumble" - Proverbs 4:19.
  • The prophet Micah depicts the time of Israel's apostasy as "… night without vision. And you shall have darkness without divination" - Micah 3:6.
  • In general, we humans prefer darkness "…men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil" - John 3:19.
  • But darkness and light can never coexist. When light comes, darkness has to leave: "And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" - John 1:5.
  • We can never hide from God's light. No darkness is too thick that He can't penetrate it  - Psalm 139:11,12.
  • Paul tells us to cast off darkness and "… put on the armour of light" - Romans 13:12.
  • He speaks of our pilgrimage to faith in terms of once being in darkness but now in light - Ephesians 5:8.
  • Jesus tells those who believe in Him that they are the light of the world - Matthew 5:14.
  • And someday we will live in the city which has no need of the light of sun or moon—for God's Son will illuminate it. Jesus "…the Lamb is its light" - Revelation 21:23.

I ask myself, where am I on this journey from darkness to light? Where are you? Are we living with sin in the shadows, thinking we can hide from God? Have we seen Jesus' attractive light, but we're still in twilight, not sure we want to go all the way in putting on that armour? Or are we on the pilgrimage to ever-increasing light as we let the scriptures probe our lives, shining light on any rooms and corners where darkness still resides, becoming ever more attractive light-bearers (2 Corinthians 3:18)? Let's live in the light now so we can look forward with anticipation to heaven when we will experience perfect light!

Dear God, thank You for being light. Help me to expose my life to Your light and walk in it all my days. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Embrace diversity

teamwork - team putting a puzzle together
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Corinthians 12:1-13

TO CHEW ON: "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities but it is the same God who works all in all." 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Our focus verses talk about three means through which God works in and through the life of a believer and so the life of the church.

He gives GIFTS. I like how the Amplified enlarges on "diversities of gifts": "Now there are distinctive varieties and distributions of endowments [extraordinary powers of distinguishing certain Christians, due to the power of divine grace operating in their souls by the Holy Spirit] and they vary…" (1 Corinthians 12:4 AMP). Paul lists the gifts of the Spirit in verses 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 of our reading.

He works through MINISTRIES. [Ministries—diakonia—means service, ministering religion, charity, food.] It may require teamwork with each person willing to do what's required. A few years ago my husband and I worked in the Alpha ministry of our church—not as table leaders but as kitchen workers. When it came time for testimony night, the leader asked that we, the kitchen crew, be present to hear the testimonies so we would get a sense of what we had been a part.

He works through a diversity of ACTIVITIES. [Activities —energema—means "thing wrought" and "effect operation."] Verse 6 in the Amplified Bible explains it well: "And there are distinctive varieties of operation—or working to accomplish things—but it is the same God Who inspires and energies them all in all." (1 Corinthians 12:6 AMP).

To me this speaks of how people have different styles of working, taking different routes to the same goal. Some make detailed plans while others are open to whatever comes along. Some are organized, doing jobs ahead while others are last-minute, working best under pressure. Some have neat work spaces while others are most creative in chaos. The beautiful thing is there's no one right way. God is present and moving even in our different styles of working.

How freeing to know that we don't have to be like others in our gifts, our ministries, or our styles of working. When God the Holy Spirit lives in us, He will give the gifts we need for the ministry in which we're involved, to accomplish His work through us, as individuals and the church. We can not only embrace but celebrate our diversity!

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for Your presence in my life. Help me to refrain from comparing myself with others in gifts, ministries and the way I work at things. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission." (

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Friday, June 06, 2014

The Spirit behind unity

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 11:16-30

TO CHEW ON: "So the Lord said to Moses "...Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you that you may not bear it yourself alone.'" Numbers 11:17.

Here in Numbers 11 we have an element of the unity Jesus prayed for, for His followers: unity in leadership. How does it come about? Not through education, training, or even mentoring, but through the impartation of the same spirit — the Holy Spirit.

God called Moses and empowered him to lead the Israelites. Now God gave him helpers to spread the weight of responsibility. Like God hand-picked the disciples, so it seems He chose these 70 men, for two didn't show up for the meeting at the tabernacle yet they demonstrated the same supernatural ability to prophesy even though they had stayed in the camp (Numbers 11:26).

I wonder if we haven't often glossed over the role that the Holy Spirit plays in our unity. And He fosters unity not only in leaders. The Bible has many examples of spiritual unity. (Though the Holy Spirit isn't expressly mentioned in many of these instances, I think we are safe in assuming that He was present in each case).

1. Moses and Aaron spoke in unity as God's mouthpiece to the Israelites - Exodus 4:15,30.

2. Aaron and Hur supported Moses' hands to achieve victory in battle - Exodus 17:12.

3. Elisha and the sons of the prophets worked together on a building project - 2 Kings 6:1-3.

4. The Israelites were unanimous in their choice of David as king - 1 Chronicles 12:38.

5. The Israelites worked in harmony under Nehemiah to complete repairs on the city wall while at the same time guarding everyone's safety - Nehemiah 4:16-17.

6. Jesus promised success in prayer as we pray in unity with even one other person - Matthew 18:19. In fact, when the disciples prayed "in one accord" (Act 4:24) "...the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness" - Acts 4:31.

7. Working in unity gives us success in spreading the gospel - Philippians 1:27.

How can we fight if we're controlled by the same Spirit? Let's be aware of the Holy Spirit's role in furthering unity, both in individual and church life!

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to be controlled by Your Spirit and thus enabled to live in unity with other Spirit-filled and -empowered believers. Amen.

MORE: Unity and Prayer

"Disunity is a major hindrance to much prayer, and the history of revival in the church proves that deep, pervading unity in the Spirit can lead to spiritual refreshing and blessing."
- Wesley Duewel quoted in Prayer Powerpoints p. 95 (Source: Touch the World Through Prayer - Wesley L. Duewel, p. 25).
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Secret disciple

Nicodemus seeks Jesus by night - Alexandre Bida
Nicodemus seeks Jesus by night - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 7:32-52

TO CHEW ON: "Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night being one of them) said to then, 'Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?' " John 7:51

On the last day of the feast Jesus stood in the temple and shouted out, "If anyone thirsts let him come to Me and drink."  

That sparked discussion ("Truly this is the Prophet." "This is the Christ." "Will the Christ come out of Galilee?") and opposition. The chief priests and Pharisees wanted Him arrested but the officers they assigned to arrest Jesus came back empty-handed saying, "No man ever spoke like this Man." The rulers responded, "Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him"

I wonder if Nicodemus answered in his head, "I have." This Pharisee, who had earlier come to Jesus by night (John 3:1-21) does here, to his credit, speak in Jesus' defense (though not directly) with: "Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?"

The others put forward their objection trump card: A prophet won't come out of Galilee. Discussion closed.

We can only imagine Nicodemus's discomfort in the days ahead as the Pharisees bargained with Judas to betray Jesus and then convinced Pilate to sentence Him to die. Nicodemus did appear one more time, after Jesus' death when he and another secret, afraid-of-the-Jews Sanhedrin member disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, bound Jesus' body with spices and buried him in the garden tomb (John 19:38-42).

I wonder if Nicodemus had regrets about not being more forward in defending Jesus? No doubt if he had been, circumstances would have taken a different turn—not for Jesus perhaps, but for him. He may have lost his position as a Pharisee and with that his source of income, prestige, maybe even the support of his family. But I can only think if he had had the courage of his convictions, he would have respected himself more. To me his story is heavy with regrets.

In our time, when Christian values are trampled on more and more in the media and entertainment, are we much different than Nicodemus? When our unbelieving neighbours or friends or workmates make fun of our beliefs and mock our Saviour, do we have the courage of even Nicodemus's subtle defense of Jesus? Or do we, with our silence, also keep our discipleship secret?

Dear God, I'm too much like Nicodemus. Help me to have the courage to speak up about my beliefs. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Obedience and understanding

Jesus teaching - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 7:16-31

TO CHEW ON: " ' If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on my own authority.' " John 7:17

Controversy and confusion swirl around Jesus here. Earlier in the chapter He has refused to go to the feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem at His brothers' suggestion (to attract followers), yet later He goes on His own but secretly.

In the middle of the feast week He begins to teach openly in the temple. When He suggests that some are plotting to kill Him, they say he's crazy ("You have a demon"). But what do others later murmur amongst themselves except, " ' Is this not He whom they seek to kill?' " - John 7:25.

He must be Christ the Messiah, proved by His wisdom, some say. But He can't be Christ, say others, for we know where He comes from. Will Christ do more miracles than this, though, still others, on the verge of belief, ask.

Jesus gives a clue to His listeners about how they can have assurance that He is indeed who He claims to be and that His teachings are reliable: " ' If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.' "

Notes on this verse in my Bible explain what He means by this:

"The teachings and claims of Jesus will be accepted by those who are intent on doing God's will" - Siegfried Schatzmann, notes on John, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1456.


"Obeying Jesus is evidence that we love Him and are His disciples. Our obedience is vital to holy living. The Holy Spirit teaches us and gives us understanding of the Scriptures enabling us to obey the Lord.

Determine to obey the Lord. Align your will with His will" - Leslyn Musch, Truth-In-Action Through John, NSFLB p. 1483.
Jesus is saying obedience is the key to assurance and spiritual knowledge. I like how Oswald Chambers puts it:

"The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 27 reading (emphasis added).

Dear Jesus, please help me to live and experience the connection between obedience and spiritual understanding. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

How does the world feel about you?

Jesus converses with the doctors
of the law - Alexandre Bida

Jesus converses with the doctors of the law by Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 7:1-24

TO CHEW ON: "The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil."  John 7:7

Though there have been times when Christians were in sync with their larger society, such times seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Even in my lifetime there has been a cooling toward Christians and Christianity due, partly at least, to the reason Jesus was hated by His neighbours--because he had the audacity to "testify of it that its works are evil." In other words, Jesus believed there was an objective standard of right and wrong and called evil, evil. The message of our prevailing culture is that everything is relative.

Jesus' words here tell us this reaction from the world ("hate") shouldn't surprise us. In fact, maybe we should be more surprised that we are as well accepted as we are.

So, how would a Jesus-type reaction look in our times? It's easy to imagine a holier-than-thou Christianity that puts people off with sanctimonious attitudes and words. None of us wants to be that person.

Perhaps 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 gives us a clue as to how we could live winsome, appealing lives, while being that influence for good:

"Now thanks be to God who ... through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life."

The image of our lives being perfume is a lovely one. Of course that perfume needs to be diffused and  words will probably be a part of that diffusing. And so even here we see that though some will like the 'smell' of those words and the life that backs them up,  others won't. And so, no matter how appealing the image, the hate element raises its head again. For how would we expect someone to react to the smell of death but to hate it?

I ask myself, am I willing to be hated for my loyalty to Christ? Are you?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, may my loyalty to You be unwavering. Please show me where I am compromising that loyalty because I want to be liked. Help me to stand with You when unpopular, evil-condemning words need to be spoken. Amen.

MORE:  Compromise?

 "When Christians compromise with the kosmos, they may continue to attend church and even pray and read their Bibles. The problem is that the things of God occupy a section of their lives, while the main thrust of their affections is devoted to the world-system. Jesus' warning that 'no one can serve to masters' is illustrated on every side by Christians in the West today" - Dennis McCallum, Unlocking the Mysteries of Satan, Kindle Location 908 (emphasis added).
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Monday, June 02, 2014

God keeps us - 2

Jesus by the Sea - Alexandre Bida
Jesus  by the Sea - Alexandre Bida
TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 17:12-26

TO CHEW ON: " 'While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.' " John 17:12

What a comfort to hear Jesus pray for us! Yesterday we went through the Bible gathering reminders of God's keeping power. Today we'll look at some of the specific ways Jesus refers to in His prayer, in which we are kept.

We are:
  • Kept in the Father's name - John 17:11. The name of someone represents the essence of all he or she is. We are kept by all God is—His attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, love, holiness etc.
  • Kept in safety - John 17:12. No lost sheep Jesus prays to Father God.
  • Kept in joyfulness - John 17:13. " 'My joy fulfilled in themselves.' " When I think of Jesus being joyful, I think of Him with the Samaritan woman. Remember His reaction when the disciples tried to pull His attention from the food of ministry to physical food? He declined their food and said, " 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me …' " and then He talked about rejoicing over the harvest that results - John 4:31-36.
  • Kept in purity - John 17:15. Jesus prayed that we would be kept pure (" '… keep them from the evil one…' ") even while we're still in the world.
  • Kept separated from the world - John 17:16. After coming to Christ and finding we no longer buy into the world's systems and values, its inevitable to feel like a misfit. Yet there is still the desire to fit in and the temptation to conform. Jesus wants us to be okay with that sense of alienation from the world. He prays that our separation will persist.
  • Kept in the process of sanctification - John 17:17. Sanctify means to set apart. How are we established in this set-apartness? By God's Word. The Bible is the guidebook, map and North Star of this life in Christ.
  • Kept in active service - John 17:18. Though we are separated from the world, we are sent into it.
  • Kept in unity - John 17:20, 21. What a testimony to the world when we as Christians get along.
  • Kept for coming glory - John 17:22-24. Jesus lived as a man with His disciples. We read their accounts and relive His life on earth at a distance. But what Jesus wants is for all His disciples to see Him in reality: " '… that they may behold My glory which You have given Me …' " and be part of it: " '… and the glory which You gave Me, I have given them.' "

What aspect of Jesus' keeping do we need today? Let's claim it in faith and live as precious, kept children!

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for this prayer that encompasses believers across the ages. Please help me to claim and live by faith in God the Father's keeping power. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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